Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lake County Mini Profiles - Men at Work Part I

The decades after the Civil War saw many rapid changes in the pattern of American life.  Lake County, Ohio was no exception to this change.  While the great fortunes rocketed, major cities industrialized, and immigrants joined the fabric of local communities, Lake County's accomplishments were almost hidden.  Agriculture remained the primary focus and the small town shopkeepers founded the seeds of progress.

A.E. Vrooman -  Raised on Dock Road in Madison, he developed an onion topper.  Manufactured in Painesville by he and his father, this topper was the first machine of its type.  Patented and marketed throughout the northeast, Lake County became the first area in the state to produce onions for shipment.

Jesse Storrs -  In 1854, Jesse Storrs left Courtland County, New York and settled in Painesville Township, Ohio.  He purchased eighty acres and planted trees.  Storrs' business grew to be the largest departmental nursery in the U.S.  Fruit trees, ornamental shrubs and vines, evergreens, roses, annual flower and vegetable seeds were all sold by Storrs and his partner James J. Harrison.  Many of Storrs' apprentices became the county nurserymen still known today.

J.W. Penfield and Son -  Penfield arrived in 1834 as a young boy to Willoughby, Ohio.  Their family farm is the current site of the Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe.  His interest in drainage led him to build the first machine to make drain tiles (1854).  His machine was exhibited at several fairs and soon garnered considerable interest.  His business grew and by 1872, the J.W. Penfield factory stood on the east end of the Pelton Street bridge in Willoughby.  Penfield sold not only the simple product (tile) but the machinery to make the product.  His modern factory was a decisive improvement on the mill system.

Charles Ruggles -  In the spring of 1869 Charles Ruggles introduced 'net fishing' at Fairport.  In his first season he caught 1500 sturgeon.  Although no market existed for sturgeon at the time, he sold them to local nuserymen Storrs and Harrison.  This became the impetus for the first commercial fertilizer in the country.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cleveland's Bygone Millionaire's Row Comes to Willoughby Hills on September 28th. An Evening Program about Life on the Avenue.

A stretch of Cleveland street on Euclid Avenue (US Route 20) was once the most beautiful street in America.  From the late 1860's through the early 1920's, the richest and most influential men in Ohio and the country lived east of Cleveland's University Circle.  Their homes celebrated the Gilded Age of Cleveland.  Some of the names that dotted Millionaire's Row included John D. Rockefeller, George Worthington, Charles F. Brush, Samuel Mather, and Jeptha Wade.  Others included Marcus Hanna, John Hay, Dr. Worthy S. Streator, and the infamous Cassie Chadwick.  Architect Charles Steinfurth designed 15 of these famous mansions, the Mather mansion located on the CSU campus being the last.  Sadly, most of these homes have been lost to history.  Some industrialists had their homes razed at the time of their deaths.  The Great Depression re-purposed some.  Local expansion carved into some mansion properties.  Dunham Tavern and Forest Hills Park ( gifted to East Cleveland by Rockefeller) remain as some of the oldest tributes to Cleveland's early history.

The Willoughby Hills Historical Society, Willoughby Historical Society and Willoughby Hills Public Library have joined together to co-sponsor an evening program about this bygone era in Cleveland history.  It will be held this Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 6:30pm in the O'Ryan Room at the Willoughby Hills Community Center.  The program is titled Who (and What) Built Cleveland's Millionaire's Row?  The program will feature an illustrated talk about the builders of the mansions.  Additionally, the lecture will move downstairs and examine those that helped run the mansions.  Finally, personal tidbits about life on the Avenue and some local lore will close out the program.  The event is free but it is necessary to register prior to the event.  Call 440-942-3362 to reserve your place at this Millionaire's Row retrospective.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Then and Now - Part II - The Lake County Historical Society Story

The story of the County Poor House may have ended in 2004 but a new chapter in the history of Lake County began shortly thereafter.  2007 saw a joint effort by the Riverside Local School District and The Lake County Historical Society re-purpose the former poor house site.  The 54 acre property and institutional building are now the permanent home of the Lake County History Center.  The 30,000 square foot building with out buildings now sit on eight acres.  Four exhibition rooms have been completed, a community room, kitchen and offices are functional, and additional room exhibits are underway.  A barn theater has been realized.  The Jack E. Daniels Living History Center spans the property.  This eight acre complex is also the site of a museum, research library, school and community programming venue.

The Lake County Historical Society was founded in 1938 by Laurence H. Norton.  Norton and fellow citizens had a goal of creating a local chapter of the Western Reserve Historical Society.  Included in this goal was the care of the James A. Garfield Presidential site.  This new historical society collected historical records and artifacts of Lake County.  Seventeen years later the LCHS incorporated.  1983 saw the National Park Service assume control of the Garfield site on Mentor Avenue.  The LCHS moved to Kirtland Hills where they remained for the next 25 years.  The new site of the history center was a Holden Arboretum property.  It was the summer home of Arthur D. Baldwin.  'Shadybrook' as it was known served the history well.  The historic village was added.  An annual heritage festival was well received for many seasons.

The Lake County Historical Society remains true to this day in its mission.  Its research library, programming, and museum collection provide residents and visitors alike with opportunities to be part of the living history that is our hometowns.  The Center offers open hours seven days a week with Wednesdays being free during the daytime hours.  Whether you visit 415 Riverside Drive in Painesville Twp. in person or access their site at, the LCHC merits your attention.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Then and Now - The Story of The County Poor House (1852-2004) - Part I

A two storied T-shaped building stands at 415 Riverside Drive in Painesville Township.  Since 2007 it has been the new home of the Lake County Historical Society.  From 2004-2007 it belonged to the Riverside Local School District.  For the 152 years prior, it was the County Poor House.

The site of the County Poor House was originally the Pettingel Family Farm.  In 1852 the county purchased the farm and 110 acres.  Benjamin F. Morse and Col. Arthur McAllister of Cleveland were hired to construct an institutional building for the County Poor.  McAllister was a primary architect in the designs of the mansions on Millionaire's row as well as the Soldiers and Sailors Momument in Public Square.  A two storied t-shaped institutional design was conceived.  Four rooms in the front portion of each story were designed as quarters for the superintendent.  Two separate wings, one for men, the other for women connected to the quarters.  A kitchen and residential accommodations were included. Basement cells were constructed for the needs of the severely ill.

1897 saw the addition of a cottage hospital.  The hospital served the entire county until the first public hospital appeared in 1924.  The County Poor House remained viable until 2004.  The last nine residents were moved to newer facilities and the era of the County Poor House came to an end.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A County Cornerstone - Downtown Painesville's First Church Congregational

A  donation for an emergency American Red Cross Blood Drive brought me to today's blog topic.  It got me to thinking that churches were architectural cornerstones to communities.  People often built their homes near their places of work or worship.  I wondered how old was old when it came to area churches? Every city, village, or township has an old church from a bygone era.  Certainly, The Old Stone Church on Public Square in Cleveland was the area's oldest?  It was built in 1819.  Then I came upon the history of the Bible Baptist Church in Madison.  Its presence was established in 1814.  Next, I came upon the story of The United Methodist Church in Mentor.  It was established in 1811 as part of the gifted property of Clark and Margaret Jordan Parker.  Which returns me to today's topic.  In 1810 the First Church (Presbyterian) was established by Rev. Nathan B. Darrow.  Located on 22 Liberty Street in Painesville, it has had a continuous presence there since the original 13 members gathered for worship. It celebrated its bicentennial in 2010.

First Church as it stands today is essentially the same as it was in the 1860's.  The cornerstone is still present.  Philosophical issues about the topic of slavery resulted in the church leaving the Presbyterian Church for the Congregationalist Church in 1868.  The 1863 pipe organ from the Garrett House of Buffalo has been replaced.  However, the church architecture, Rose Window, and history have merited Historic Building Marker Status and placement on the Mentor Avenue Historic District Register.

Whether you visit the church as a weekend guest or simply have a chance encounter ( Red Cross Blood Drive) bring you inside, First Church Congregational in downtown Painesville is another hidden gem in our county history.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Mentor Heritage Tour Continues - Mentor Lumber and Supply

Only a few of Mentor's existing businesses were founded before the year 1950.  Ten of these existed in the lifetime before freeways and shopping centers.  Only one, C. Merkel & Sons can be traced back to the late nineteenth century.  The next two businesses to arrive were in 1922.  One was J. Fracci Florist, the other was The Mentor Lumber and Supply Company.  The first Mentor Lumber Company was located on Hart Street.  It was relocated to Center Street and eighty nine years later the original building still stands today.  Even the construction of the Center Street Overpass in 1972 can not hide the familiar sign from view.

In 1963, Jerome Osborne, Harry Fishleigh, and Bob Sanderson teamed up to buy The Mentor Lumber and Supply Company.  The addition of Pete Davidson to the mix marked the beginning of Mentor's full service lumber yard.  The Chardon Lumber Yard was acquired in 1965 to give the company a Geauga County presence.  In 1988, the Mentor Door and Millworks was established.  Custom doors, mantles, stairs, and woodworking were now possible under the company umbrella.  1992 saw remodeling needs addressed as Mentor Installed Services opened.  A kitchen and bath design center opened in 1998 when the Mentor Lumber Showroom & Design Center was founded.  2000 saw a new Chardon division site open.

Whether you can remember going by the original Mentor Lumber Company on a Mentor school bus pre-1972 overpass as I do,  or you can only recall the site you see today, The Mentor Lumber and Supply Company chapter remains a living piece of the history of Mentor and Lake County.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Robert Manry and the Tinkerbelle

A heart attack may have claimed his life at the age of 52, but the life story of Robert Manry was as full as any Lake County history book chapter could be.  Manry was born in June, 1918 in India. His parents were missionaries.   A student of the world, he learned to sail on the Jumna River.  He left for the U.S. in 1936 to attend college.  Arriving in Ohio in 1937, Manry selected Antioch College.  WWII interrupted his studies.  Some political issues resulted in a brief jail sentence before he served in the European theater as an Army photographer.  After the war ended, he returned to college and in 1948 earned a degree in political science.

Robert Manry was a reporter for several Ohio and Pennsylvania newspapers before assuming the position of copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1953.  He resided on Royalview Road in Willowick, Ohio during these years. An ad for an old "whitecap" by the Old Town Canoe Company of Maine resulted in the purchase of a 13' 6" sailboat in 1958.  The sailing adventures of his youth were about to be renewed.  He named his new vessel the Tinkerbelle.  No cabin or deck existed initially and he rigged an awning to his sailboat as his first major improvement.  Traveling with his son, his first voyage aboard the Tinkerbelle occurred in 1964.  They sailed 200 miles to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

1965 became Manry's year of infamy.  A unique 78 day solo voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in his tiny wooden boat became a worldwide phenomena.  Manry left Falmouth, Massachusetts, USA and reached Falmouth Corwall, England on August 17th.  The story of his travels were widely celebrated, highly documented and he wrote a book about his trip in 1966.  The Tinkerbelle (Harper and Row) was a best seller.  Manry never returned to his position with the Plain Dealer.  A new career as a lecturer presented itself.  Also, the purchase of a new vessel (the Curlew) in 1967 led to new adventures and stories to tell.

In 1966, the City of Willowick renamed the old Nike site Manry Park in honor of their famous resident.  Tinkerbelle is now on display at The Western Reserve Historical Society Museum in Cleveland.  The story of Robert Manry (1918-1971) remains as another gem in the history annals of Lake County.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lighthouse Art Festival returns to Fairport

The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine will be hosting a special event on September 10 and 11.  Returning for a third season is the annual lighthouse art festival.  Taking place the same weekend as the Lake County Perchfest ( on the Metroparks Lakefront Beach just at the base of the lighthouse reservation), visitors may climb the lighthouse tower for a scenic view of Lake Erie, experience the artifacts in the keeper's dwelling museum, or view and purchase gallery quality collections of maritime art pieces.

Noted Great Lakes artist Bill Csatary will be on site Saturday, September 10th to sign his collection of prints, lithographs, and maritime themed pieces.  His portraits, oils, watercolors, and acrylics have been highlighted in many area shows.  Bill Csatary is a graduate of Cleveland's West High School,  a US Army veteran, and a retired science educator from the Parma Schools.  His artistic talents began as a hobby and evolved into well received art shows.  His gallery quality collection includes new pieces and all items will be on sale at the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum.

Visitors to the Perchfest will find new t-shirts featuring the Bill Csatary print of the Fairport Lighthouse with a caption of "Come for the fish-Come for the fun."  The Lighthouse and Marine Museum will have extended hours during the Perchfest weekend, noon to 7pm both days.  The Lighthouse Art Festival is free.  A small admission fee is charged to climb the tower.  Fees collected are used for tower and keeper dwelling restorations.  Volunteers of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society maintain the lighthouse properties and will be onsite to share the history of Fairport's iconic light.